Refugee Realities Post-Paris

Heba Mohammad 
November 21, 2015

In the initial hours after the attacks in Paris on November 13th, the world struggled to come to grips with what happened. The following day, The Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) released an official statement claiming responsibility for the attacks and confirming what many people thought to be true. However, the gap in time between the attacks and the official statement left plenty of opportunities for speculation, the spreading of rumors, and finger pointing, to the detriment of Muslims and, even worse, refugees.

The frenzy to blame Muslims or Islam began almost immediately, whether or not people believed this was an attack coordinated by ISIL. Some eyewitnesses reported hearing shouts of “Allahu akbar” before the assailants began shooting in the concert hall. As the accusations against Islam began to pile up, Muslims took to social media to remind the world not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Muslims. Despite these efforts, many individuals have committed to focusing the conversations on Islam’s role in the attacks. Very little is being accomplished by doing so. In fact, if every Muslim in the world agreed that Islam had a role in these attacks by virtue of being the ideology the terrorists claim to espouse, nothing would change. It is unlikely the 1.3 billion Muslims around the world would renounce their religion, and the terrorists would continue perverting a belief system.

This conversation distracts from the need to do something immediately to help victims and prevent further attacks. While it is possible to engage in both discussions simultaneously, most people are not, and that poses life threatening consequences for an already vulnerable group: refugees.

As the investigation into the attacks began one discovery put the lives of thousands of refugees at risk: one of the attackers was carrying a Syrian passport. Opponents of helping refugees were in an uproar, using this finding as justification for their anti-refugee positions. In Europe, countries had already been responding to the refugee crisis in controversial ways, including the decision of some to reinstate border controls. In doing so they are going back on their commitment to the Schengen Treaty of 1985 which allows for free movement between member states. Post-Paris, Poland became the latest country to choose to close its borders.

Learn more about the Schengen Treaty here, and the related Dublin Agreement here.

Not long after news about the passport spread did French authorities determine it was a fake passport, one likely obtained on the black market by criminals trying to profit off the desperation of refugees. They also determined none of the identified individuals behind the attacks were refugees, and instead all are European Union nationals. It was too little, too late, however, and now refugees are bearing the brunt of a second wave of anti-refugee madness which has been fueled by a number of myths regarding refugees.

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Their plight is particularly devastating because of the role world leaders play in promoting fear of refugees. Just this week the U.S. House of Representatives passed bill 4038 which makes it even more difficult for refugees to resettle in the United States. The process is already time consuming and excruciatingly, as people have pointed out, so the bill is an embarrassing waste of time and focuses on the wrong aspects of the crisis and ISIL’s campaign.

The consequences of this continued behavior in which Muslims and refugees are blamed for the increased presence and violence of ISIL are dangerous. We know from documents published by ISIL in their magazine Dabiq that their goal is to create an “us vs. them” mentality. The “us” being Muslims who practice Islam the way ISIL members do, and the “them” being anyone who does not practice Islam the way they do. I intentionally use this verbiage because the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslims, which urges us to move away from having conversations where we put the blame on general Muslim and refugee populations to placing the blame where it belongs: on ISIL.

When we start placing blame on those who do not deserve it, it breeds resentment. This is not to suggest all innocent Muslims who rightfully feel offended by the accusations they are facing are going to turn to terrorism, but ISIL depends on the possibility that some may in order to recruit more members. They rely on the hatred, hardships, and loneliness people face, especially in times like these, to recruit members. Their strategy seems to be working, especially when non-Westerners are being killed regularly and no one bats an eye. Can you imagine how frustrating that feels? It is certainly not an excuse, but violent people do not need excuses to commit atrocities. So when we say Muslims are to blame, or refugees should be banned from our country, we are playing right into the hands of ISIL.

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There are 60 million refugees worldwide. Of those, 13 million have fled Syria in the past five years due to the Syrian Civil War and to ISIL’s grip in the region. Every refugee shares in the same fears we do: the loss of their life due to violence. That is why they are fleeing. It is unreasonable to deny these individuals help because we are afraid of what might happen if we give them their lives back. That is not how humanity works.

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